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Are Protein Shake Diet Plans Sustainable or Another Quick Fix?

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 9 August 2022

Have you ever wondered about the effectiveness of protein shake diet plans, if they really work, or if it’s a sustainable method for weight loss? 

The truth is, protein shakes include more nutrients and minerals other than just protein and can be used to replace up to 1-2 traditional meals in a day, but what’s the best way to incorporate them and why is protein so effective [1]? 

How Does Protein Shakes Aid in Weight Loss?

Protein is an essential macronutrient when it comes to weight loss because it helps keep you full and builds lean muscle [2]. In turn, muscle burns more calories than fat, and protein shakes make it easier to get adequate protein despite a busy day or lack of planning.   

Not to mention, most pre-made powder protein shake mixes have an impressive array of amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and other important nutrients. Because of this, these shakes can replace a meal or two per day, but meal replacements might be a better option if you’re looking to substitute meals. 

Protein Shakes Vs. Meal Replacements

Protein shakes are designed for just that, to get more protein. And while protein shakes oftentimes have extra vitamins and minerals, they weren’t designed to be full on meal replacements.

On the other hand, meal replacements were purposefully designed to replace meals so they contain a more dynamic set of nutrients (carbs, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients) and usually more calories as well.

Both of these can be useful in a diet plan, but it’s important to remember that whole foods are king when it comes to nutrition. That being said, trying out a protein shake diet plan or using protein shakes as a form of meal replacement is safe as long as you’re eating enough whole foods throughout the day and getting a minimum of 1200 calories.

  • A Note On Calories

Those keeping calories as restricted as possible can make these shakes with water rather than milk/non-dairy milk.

One thing to remember is not restrict calories too much. Generally, adults need to meet certain caloric limits (~1,200 – 2,000 calories per day). Not consuming enough calories in a day can cause drops in energy, deficiencies, and overeating when the shake diet is over [3].

By not giving your body enough fuel, you will not only risk having trouble losing any weight but a host of other health issues, as well [4].

Weight Loss and Health Benefits of Protein Powder Shakes

As well as curbing the appetite, protein will help keep muscle mass from deterioration. Instead of losing equal parts muscle and fat, adding enough consumable protein will help aid your weight loss journey by allowing you only to lose fat while keeping the integrity of your muscle mass. This is more important than many people think! The more muscle mass in the body, the more calories will be burned by muscles at rest [4].

In addition, protein shakes contain vitamins and minerals that help with weight loss.

The typical American man eats about 2475 calories a day, and the average American woman eats about 1833 calories per day. With these totals, 33% come from fat, 52% from carbohydrates, and 15% from protein [5]. If these numbers were tweaked a bit – consuming far fewer carbohydrates and more fat and protein, our bodies could lose weight in a much more controlled and sustainable way. Because of all of this, replacing regular meals with protein shakes can be very effective for weight loss.

By cutting down on foods that may be harmful to your body and instead adopting this diet, you will have much more control over the types of calories put into your body and yield desired results!

Think Differently About Fat, Carbohydrates, and Proteins in Your Diet

Many people tend to be confused about the ratios in which they should be consuming fat, protein, and carbs. Most modern diets have the element of reducing or cutting out one of these macronutrients altogether. However, a diet is most effective and sustainable when these three macronutrients are included reasonably and sensibly.

The Mayo Clinic provides a helpful summary of proper ratios between these important nutrients and how many Americans consume too much protein. The Mayo Clinic recommends that 10-35% of the average adult American’s protein needs should come from daily calories [1].

For example, allow your daily carbohydrate needs to be filled by eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Instead of red meat, which contains a lot of fat, consider replacing your (food-based) protein needs with leaner sources, like chicken, fish, tofu, or beans.

Allow your fat needs to be fulfilled with healthier options, like coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, or eggs.

With these general guidelines of healthy eating and by using shakes to account for half of your caloric needs, you can build a satisfying diet that tastes great and is foolproof at containing everything your body needs!

 Examples of Daily Menus with Protein Shake Diet Plans

For anyone wanting to commit to a plan that replaces up to two meals with protein shakes, it is fairly simple to plan your meals. Each shake contains about 200 – 500 calories, and they can be consumed as full meals, divided into snack meals, or any combination. The goal is to consume 2,000 calories per day, with 1,000 of those calories coming from shakes.

It’s good for your bones, good for immune support, and lowers blood pressure. However, it should be noted that if the kidneys are already not functioning as they should, the extra protein would put a strain on them [2].

Here are suggestions for the types of regular food to eat on this plan, and remember, meals and snacks should contain lean protein, fresh fruits, and vegetables. 

Template Plan

Breakfast:

One protein shake (500 calories)

Half of a protein shake and a piece of fruit (250 calories from shake, save the rest for later)

High-quality protein meal (the other two meals of the day would be shakes)

Lunch:

One protein shake (500 calories)

Half of a shake and a piece of fruit (250 calories from shake, saved from breakfast)

Dinner:

600-800 calorie meal with lean protein, unlimited vegetables and/or salad, and a small serving of starchy vegetables

One protein shake, if you’ve only had one for the day

 This plan can be mixed up to one’s satisfaction. There is also room for snacks! Suggested snacks – half of a protein shake, 100 calories of fruit, low-fat dairy, or nuts and seeds.

Example Plan

Although this protein shake diet substitutes meals with protein shakes, you may consider meal replacements if you’re foregoing meals because they contain more nutrients. We suggest using protein shakes as an additive, but nonetheless, the following is an example of one day’s worth of meals on this diet plan:

Breakfast: One protein shake

Snack: One piece of fruit, mid-morning

Lunch: One protein shake

Snack: A handful of nuts/seeds with low-fat yogurt, mid-afternoon

Dinner: Grilled chicken, salad, and a small serving of rice or potatoes

Brands of Popular Shakes, and How to Make them at Home

There are so many brands of pre-made protein shakes. The most popular ones are listed here:

  • Boost Nutrition Shakes
  • Nashua Nutrition
  • Premier Protein Shake
  • SlimFast Advanced Energy Meal Replacement Shakes
  • Beach Body Shakes
  • Iconic Protein Shakes (lactose-free)
  • Muscle Milk Meal Replacement Shakes

There are so many options, even outside of this list! If you’re concerned about the price or would like to avoid anything processed and branded, try making these shakes at home. 

All that is needed to create a balanced meal replacement shake is whey protein, low-fat dairy or plant milk, vegetables, fruits, and flaxseed, chia seeds, or fish oil. There are plant-based protein powders on the market to adjust the recipe for vegetarians, vegans, or those with lactose intolerance, and the liquid element can be plant milk or even just water. 

The choice of making these shakes at home is greatly beneficial to those who do not care for the pre-mixed powders, are on a specific diet, or do not want to purchase the mixes. While it can be time-consuming and expensive on its own, homemade shakes are a perfectly acceptable option.

Downsides of Protein Shake Diet Plans

As with any diet, this plan has some downsides so it’s important to consider the following before beginning a protein shake regimen.

  • The Pre-Made Mixes Often Contain Added Sugar

Added sugar is a source of concern, specifically for those who are trying to lose weight. One way to avoid this problem is to read the nutrition information for any pre-mixed powder and choose the one with the least amount of added sugar. Another way to avoid this problem is to make your own shake at home, where all of the ingredients are known, and the level of sugar can be adjusted.

To create a low-sugar drink, consider adding as many greens as possible to a homemade shake, and try vanilla extract and a teaspoon of honey instead of excessive fruit and/or sugared milk.

  • Dietary Supplements Are Unregulated By the FDA

Protein shakes are technically categorized as dietary supplements. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate these companies, they can print whatever they like on their labels. Remember, there is no guarantee that that fancy pre-mixed protein powder has those 20-100 added minerals and vitamins [5].

Again, a great way to avoid this is to make your own shakes at home!

  • Long-Term Effects?

Using protein shakes as meal replacements is a relatively new diet trend; therefore, no research or studies are available for someone who has been participating in this diet for an extended period [5]. With the caveat that someone on this diet is careful to consume enough calories and get enough nutrients from whole foods.

  • Nutrition Problems

If you’re not careful about the actual food eaten outside of the shakes, it can be easy to miss essential vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients found in food [2].

Again, it is best to discuss this diet with a professional before beginning the program for those with very specific nutritional needs. For those with general concerns but with relatively normal dietary needs, be careful about the foods’ quality outside of the shakes. These foods should include the right number of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients [2].

Alternatives & Boosters to the Protein Shake Diet Plan

Some people do not like or cannot use these protein shakes due to allergies or other restrictions. However, there’s an array of weight loss tips for beginners that don’t include a strict protein shake regimen. These alternatives and boosters range from fairly simple to advanced. Always be sure to clear a significant diet or exercise change with your doctor before following through.

  • Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting involves not eating or drinking any calories (water allowed) for set periods. The idea behind this strategy is that calories should be consumed at the perfect time – when they will be burned and used effectively.

Different fasting plans involve different schedules. Sometimes a plan will ask the participant to fast for an entire day or more. Sometimes the window to eat is very small per day. Sometimes there are several windows in which calories can be consumed.

  • Intuitive Eating

Just like it sounds, intuitive eating means eating what your body craves. Of course, this does not mean eating chocolate and drinking wine all day! Rather, you will learn to listen to your body and consume the foods it is craving, in the more scientific sense of the word.

If you find yourself craving sweets, eat fruit or other natural sources of sugar rather than candy or baked goods.

If you are craving carbohydrates and salt, try a handful of lightly salted nuts, popcorn, or rice cakes instead of reaching for potato chips.

This type of eating is all about learning to tune into your body and satisfy it with healthier versions of foods you crave.

  • Carb Cycling

Carb cycling allows the body to use carbohydrates on the days you are most active. If you belong to an exercise program, you will limit carbs on your rest days but eat them more freely on your workout days. This way, your body can utilize the energy from carbohydrates without them getting wasted and stored as fat on your rest days.

  • Exercise

Drinking protein shakes on their own, without moving your body, can still lead to weight loss. However, adding exercise to your weight loss plan can boost the effectiveness of the protein shake diet!

As much aerobic activity as possible, even walking, will help with weight loss when paired with these shakes. Remember, if you live a sedentary lifestyle, you will need to work your way up to more vigorous exercise.

The CDC recommends two and a half hours of moderate activity, or an hour of high-intensity activity per week, along with strength training or spreading out moderate to light activity throughout the week [4].

For those unable to perform these types of exercises, some low-impact options available are swimming, biking, and power walking. These are great options for older people, those with arthritis, or other past injuries that disallow them from high-impact activity.

  • Protein Timing

The myth of timing your protein for overall nutrition is long overplayed. Studies show that when you drink proteins shakes isn’t as crucial as it’s made out to be. In general, you want to consume enough protein in moderate doses throughout the day for building muscle. And when to drink protein shakes for weight loss is mostly dependent on what works for the individual. So if they snack throughout the day, they may want to drink a protein shake then or if they’re always hungry in the middle of the night, a protein shake could be better than binge eating at midnight.

Is a Protein Shake Diet Plan Right for You?

Now that you know protein shakes or meal replacements can be used in a sustainable manner, all you have to do is give it a shot. Of course, each person’s mileage may vary, but keep the following in mind when deciding if this plan is right for you: 

  • You must eat enough food outside of the shakes – you still need to make up for your caloric needs and fulfill your macro and micronutrient needs.
  • Protein shakes are about 200 – 500 calories.
  • Food eaten outside of the shakes should contain quality lean protein, low-fat dairy, and as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible.
  • Protein helps curb appetite and encourages muscle maintenance.
  • Consider the pros and cons of this diet before committing to it – this protein shake diet can be beneficial and effective for losing weight, but no diet is right for everyone.
  • There are plenty of ways to boost the effects of this diet or even replace this diet, should it not be right for you.

Each one of us has a different health and wellness journey, and none of these diets or exercise programs are magic cures to excessive weight. So if you’re not losing weight with Herbalife shakes, it could be for a variety of reasons such has how late you should drink protein shakes and the type. 

What’s important is not to give up, and give your body as much love and support as possible while working to keep it healthy.

References

[1] Wempen, K. (RDN). Are you getting too much protein? Mayo Clinic Health System. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/are-you-getting-too-much-protein

[2] U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Protein in Diet: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002467.htm

[3] Klemm, C. S. How many calories do adults need? EatRight. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/how-many-calories-do-adults-need

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, October 7). How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

[5] The hidden dangers of protein powders. Harvard Health. (2020, April 10). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-hidden-dangers-of-protein-powders

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.